Sunday, 11 October 2009

The times are changing....

You may have noticed how critical I was being of autumn here in Aberdeenshire, and how I thought chances of improvement were small. Well, it cannot be doubted that this weekend has proved me wrong, and that I now see things in a different light. All over Britain this weekend, there has been a mass migration of birds, from really quite rare ones to the most abundant ones. This movement has been big enough to effect Aberdeenshire.

Early on Friday morning, the first signs of movement were shown when the first Glossy Ibis to be seen in the county since 2000 landed in front of the visitor centre at the Loch of Strathbeg. This Glossy Ibis would stay in front of the Visitor Centre for a short amount of time and would then fly off. By lunchtime, it had been re-located in a wet field a mile or so away from Strathbeg near a small village called St Combs, and was reported on Birdguides for a second time. When I arrived back from school and heard that this bird had been seen I became excited and hoped, despite the bird not having been reported since around lunch time, that it would still be there the next day, so I would be able to go and see it. The bird wasn't reported for the rest of that day, and I became increasingly anxious. Also that day, there were reports of Sooty Shearwater and Pomarine Skua passing, which also suggested that it was going to be good out at sea too. Saturday arrived, and the first thing I did was check for a report on the Glossy Ibis, and to my delight, it had been reported, in the same field just outside the village of St Combs. So, after me getting my hair cut, we set out towards the Loch of Strathbeg to see if we could find the bird. Also reported that morning had been a Quail and a Hen Harrier, so our hopes were fairly high of seeing some other birds. However, the main focus of course was to see this Ibis.

It was nearing 1:00pm when we were driving down the road towards St Combs, where the Ibis had been seen, and I was searching as carefully as I could through every field I could see. Conditions were dreek; there was a light drizzle outside and low-lying fog covered the countryside with its gloominess. Finding the Ibis would be hard in these conditions. And it was; we drove right down to St Combs, checking every field we could see properly, but failed to find any Ibis looking birds. So we turned round and headed back the way we had come to see if we could see the Ibis from the other side of the road. After a couple of minutes driving down, there was still no sign of the bird, and my Dad and I were becoming frustrated. Where was it?

And just as we were asking ourselves this question I shouted:

"Stop! I think I've found it!"

My Dad stopped the car, and there, just 20 feet away from us, stood a wonderful Glossy Ibis, unlike any bird in the field with it, feeding about in the watery mud. There was absolutely no mistaking it! It was around the size of a curlew, maybe even a bit smaller, and was a chocolate brown colour. Its outstanding feature was obviously its bill, which was massively long, thin brown (with paler brown at the bills base) and down-curved. It stood there feeding busily, looking slightly bedraggled and wet due to the weather conditions it was experiencing but nonetheless focused on its task. There was no actual apparent glossiness to the bird, it just seemed very brown really, which definitely suggested that it was a juvenile. As it stood there so obligingly, I managed to get a few pictures of it, although due to the weather conditions and having suitable equipment they weren't great by any means. Nonetheless, I feel that it is a good idea to show you the best of these pictures. They shouldn't be that hard to distinguish; you don't exactly see the birds face, but you can tell it is definitely an Ibis by form. If you want to see better pictures of this particular bird, you can check out the species file on the Glossy Ibis on Birdguides, where there are a couple of pictures of this particular bird. Anyway, here are the pictures that I took:

This Glossy Ibis will have definitely been from the flock that came from Spain a few months ago and have gradually dispersed all over the UK. It was a cracking bird to have seen, a lifer that I won't forget! After seeing the Ibis, we headed down to Starnafin, the Visitor Centre at the Loch of Strathbeg. The Loch of Strathbeg, despite being 40 or 50 miles away is one of my local patches, and is arguably the best place to see birds in the whole of Aberdeenshire, with a fantastic rarity record as well as a fantastic range of species that can be seen there. Its an extensive piece of land, with the actual loch itself being quite a way from the visitor centre. Also, a short walk away from the Visitor Centre there is a hide called Tower Pool in which you can get better views of more distant birds, and there are some hides close to the Loch which you can access by an obsel There are also some hides near the Loch which you can access via on obselete airfield. Here is a picture I took from the Visitor Centre a few weeks ago:

If you study this picture carefully you'll notice the distinct lack of birds. The day I took that picture it was pretty quiet. However, on Saturday it was a different story. The Visitor Centre was full of birds. A fairly large flock of Pinkfeets were present and amongst them various species of duck (including Gadwall and Shoveler along with the commoner Wigeon, Teal and Mallard) and wader (lots of Dunlin, and Golden Plover, Lapwing and 1 Ruff) were seen. Also, up to 10 Whooper Swan were seen amongst the commoner Mute Swans, and lots of other commoner waterfowl werer around. Surprisingly no bird of prey species were seen on our half an hour check of the Visitor Centre, which is unusual for Strathbeg as it has a fantastic reputation for seeing birds of prey (there is even a White-tailed Eagle that can be seen occasionally that is presumably one of the birds that was released in Fife a couple of years ago). But, even though there was a vast variety of the commoner birds, there were no unusual species, and with the report of a Yellow-browed Warbler down in the bushes down at Donmouth (an area on the suburbs of Aberdeen by the sea), we were keen to head southwards.

Before travelling down to Aberdeen again to have a look for the Yellow-browed Warbler, we decided to have a look at Rattray Head, an area of coast a couple of miles south of the Loch of Strathbeg that has a reputation to be a good place to sea-watch and find migrants passerines. We didn't spend that long there, as time was against us if we wanted to check Donmouth for the YBW, but to an extent what we saw there was significant. Checking the bushes round the old Rattray Hotel, there was a clear fall of the commoner birds, with Robins and Goldcrest present in most bushes, calling and occasionally showing themselves. You could tell these birds were foreign, especially the Robins. One Robin we saw was making the most ridiculous sounding call, nothing like any other Robin. What had attracted us to this particular Robin at first was when we heard it call almost but not completely like a Willow Warbler, and once we had heard this call we saw it on top of a bush. Amongst the Goldcrest, we checked for Firecrest, but despite standing there examining the bush where Goldcrest were most abundant, there was no Firecrest amongst them. We then proceeded to have a sea-watch from the head itself, but this proved rather bad, with only some Gannet passing in the 20 minutes we spent there.

The sun was starting to set when we arrived at Donmouth, and we were worried we wouldn't have enough time to give the area a good look. So we simply set out from the car park and towards the gorse areas towards the nearby Golf Club on the dunes. As the whereabouts of this warbler was pretty vague in our heads, we didn't much else but check each area of gorse for migrant activity, using the pishing technique to see if we could flush anything out. But of course, because I am a novice 'pisher' I didn't flush anything out. After a 20 minute walk in search of the bird, we decided that it was all to ambiguous and that we should get back home. The Glossy Ibis was really enough to satisfy us for the day!

I haven't been out today, but migrant activity has continued to take place, with Firecrest, 2 Yellow-browed Warbler, Ring Ouzel and Snow Goose all seen in the county today. I guess the hope is that this migration period continues here, but for my Dad and I it is kind of ironic that some rarer birds have arrived in Aberdeenshire, as tomorrow we are going away for two weeks. On the first week, I will be spending my time in northern Suffolk with my grandfather. On one of the days I spend with him my Dad and I will have a days birding in Norfolk, which, being a fantastic county for birds, will hopefully provide some exciting stuff! Then the week after that I will be in Corsica (without my Dad but with my Mum), an island off France (close to Sardinia), where I will be doing a lot of birding too, although not seriously as my Mum isn't exactly a birder. In Corsica I am hoping to see some of the following: Audouins Gull, Rock Sparrow, Lammegeier, Corsican Citril Finch, Corsican Nuthatch (endemic), plus more. For Lammegeier and Corsican Nuthatch, my Mum and I will have a day out in an area called Asco, an apparently stunning, mountainous area with lots of Corsican Pine Trees, but both these birds will be difficult as they aren't common whatsoever. So basically, in the next two weeks I will try and see as many birds as I can, and once I get back I am pretty sure I will have a lot to report to you! My october holidays have started in style with a Glossy Ibis, lets hope they end in style with some good birds in Norfolk and Corsica!




  1. Well done with the Glossy Ibis mate and great blog aswell. I have added a link to it on my blog.

  2. Thanks Jonathan for complimenting my blog, and thank you for adding the link to it on yours. I will do the same for you. The Glossy Ibis was really nice to see, and I doubt I'll see one again for a while. Anyway, when I next post in here lots will have taken place birdwise. I may need to post things in seperate entries!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.